Race to the Top is a federal grant program, with $4.35 billion being offered to the states. California is potentially eligible for $350-$700 million. Most of the money is expected to be awarded to schools with the highest need populations. The known requirements to receive the funds include an annual evaluation of teachers and principals using student performance data, and providing a plan for turning around low-performing schools. These requirements are clearly in alignment with many school district goals.
But I am concerned about Race to the Top funds for other reasons. If you owned a business, would you sign a contract without being allowed to see the terms and provisions, and agree to make permanent changes to your business practices for one-time money without a guarantee your business would receive any money at all? That is exactly what the federal government has asked our local schools to do.
Local school districts were required to sign the Memorandum of Understanding without full knowledge of the requirements that are to be followed should they receive this money. Districts effectively signed off on a plan that the federal government can change at any moment and that means there are unknown implications for the costs involved.
The federal government has failed to fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) for the past forty years, and those mandates cost Orange County alone $321 million in deficit spending in the past year. What is to keep the Obama Administration from forcing those schools who accept Race to the Top funds from imposing even more stringent federal mandates after they have received the money?
Every state and local school district was also required to make permanent, up front changes to the education code for one-time money. Again, the full requirements of this program have not been released. Why should any state or school district subject itself to such strident requests, even if one happens to personally agree with those requests? These are not on-going funds; this is one-time money, and will not support any forward progress should a local school district receive and implement any Race to the Top funds.
I firmly believe the federal government has no business telling local school districts what to do and how to do it, particularly when they ask school districts to sign off on new program money and haven’t set the terms of the program, or even guaranteed California will receive any money at all. I believe education is a state’s sovereign right, local control is best for every school district, and applaud the Anaheim Union High School District, who refused to sign the MOU and stood strong for those ideals.